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First video of liberated Kirkuk

Iraqi forces continue to re-establish control over northern regions, while facing little or no resistance from Kurdish militants.

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Kirkuk and its vast oil fields are now officially back under Iraqi control after years of illegal rule, first by the illegitimate ISIS terror group and since 2014 by unauthorised Kurdish militants. As Kirkuk falls outside of the constitutionally designated autonomous Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, there was never any legitimacy for the Kurdish regime’s rule.

Video has emerged of Iraqi troops entering the city centre where they faced no resistance from fleeing Kurdish Peshmerga militants.

Another video shows local Iraqis welcoming the troops as well as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) who have aided Iraqi regulars throughout the long battle against ISIS.

As I reported yesterday in the The Duran, this is significant as the majority Sunni population of Kirkuk has welcomed both a majority Shi’a Iraqi army as well as entirely Shi’a PMF forces:

“The Iraqi government claims to now be in full control of Kirkuk after taking the city centre and surrounding areas. Hours ago, Iraqi forces re-established control over the main city administration building as Kurdish Peshmerga have begun a mass retreat.

Iraq’s position, which is in keeping with Iraqi and international laws, is that troops were sent in to re-establish formal control over a city that was previously occupied by ISIS, and since around 2014, has been partly in the hands of Kurdish militants and self-proclaimed political leaders. Crucially, Kirkuk falls outside of areas designated as autonomous Kurdish regions, even though the Kurdish regime in Erbil attempted to claim Kirkuk by placing it on the map of a would be Kurdish statelet, as part of the 25 September secession referendum. This provocative move was among Iraq’s gravest grievance against Erbil during the course of the referendum.

Earlier, Kurdish media released a statement from the Peshmerga stating that Iraq will pay a “heavy price” for what it described as a “flagrant declaration of war”. However, it is theoretically impossible for Iraq to declare war on forces whose very existence in Iraq is conditional upon the previously agreed autonomous status for Kurdish areas, in accordance with the 2005 Iraqi constitution. These areas and in the case of Kirkuk, an important city beyond, have been thrown into chaos due to the unilateral secessionist referendum which was boycotted by Arabs and Turkomen who overwhelmingly support Baghdad.

Prior to the 25 September referendum, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed levels of regional autonomy that are unique in the context not only of the Middle East, but of most of the world. Even many Kurdish sympathisers are beginning to blame Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani for overplaying his hand by holding a provocative referendum that was condemned by every major world and regional power with the notable exception of Israel.

With Peshmerga forces rapidly retreating and with no real chance for Israel to supply Iraqi Kurds without a massive military operation that would incur the wrath of the wider region, including and especially Turkey, the Kurds in Iraq are now effectively as materially isolated as Turkish President Erdogan warned that they would be, should they continue their provocative post-referendum stance.

The only other conceivable scenario is for the US to supply Iraqi Kurds from their bases in Iraq. This however would mean that the US would effectively be declaring war on Iraq. As I previously discussed, there is every possibility that the US is covertly hoping that a Kurdish insurrection in Iraq provokes a wider conflict that the ISIS insurgency would effectively draw Iran deeper into Iraq, making Iranian forces subject to attacks from US proxies or even US forces themselves. There is little doubt in my mind that such a scenario has already been put into action. However, today’s events mean that these scheme may have failed before it even had a chance to be fully realised.

Given how rapidly Iraqi troops have been advancing, taking seemingly all of Kirkuk after a surge which begun approximately 24 hours ago, even a superpower as brazen as the US is running out of options. This is especially true as the Turkish President has yet again reiterated his commitment to secure northern Iraq with the cooperation of Baghdad, a promise whose seriousness is only enhanced by the fact that recent reports have indicated the presence of PKK activity in Kurdish regions of Iraq.

Unless the US wars to destroy what remains of its relationship with Baghdad while also fighting both Turkey and Iran, there are fewer and fewer options for America’s would-be proxy war against Iran.

After years of division, Iraq is unifying around support for the operations in Kirkuk and so too is the region ever more united behind the legal Iraqi position. What’s more is that words like “war” and “aggression” and worse yet, talk of retaliation, is only coming out of Kurdish propaganda outlets. Iraq continues to calmly state that it is merely re-establishing control of an Iraqi city. Iraq’s Prime Minister has further stated that troops have been told not to fire upon Kurdish Peshmerga militants, although of course they have and apparently are exercising the right to fight back in instances when Peshmerga are not in full retreat.

As was the case in respect of the secession referendum, both Russia and the US have stated that they condemn all violence, but that both view the recent clashes as an unfortunate incident rather than a larger or more profound existential crisis. To put it another way, both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State are being highly diplomatic. In Russia’s case, this is standard procedure. In respect of the United States, I personally suspect it is a matter of keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest.

The Kurdish regime in Erbil as well as its known and supine puppeteers have seemingly bitten off more than they can chew. Furthermore, with Peshmerga forces retreating en masse, reports from recent years, stating that the Peshmerga reached covert agreements with ISIS to relinquish control of certain parts of northern Iraq, rather than engaging one another on the battlefield, now seem eerily believable. In trying to create a clean break from Iraq, the Kurdish regime is instead airing some very dirty laundry, all while taking major steps back from its previously comfortable autonomous status quo which is now in jeopardy due to the actions of Masoud Barzani”.

BREAKING: Iraq claims full control of Kirkuk

Now that international observers have confirmed Iraq has regained full control of the region, what is most apparent is the fragmented nature of the Kurdish militias. While most Kurdish fighters retreated or put up no resistance, others were goaded into fighting by angry local Kurds. This effectively shatters the myth of a united Kurdish regime in Iraq and has exposed the decades long political divisions among Iraqi Kurds as being as fractious today as they have been in the past.

With Turkey and Iran once again closing airspace over Kurdish regions of Iraq, creating a de-facto no-fly-zone with the permission of Baghdad, Russia has stated that it will evacuate its consulate in the de-facto Kurdish capital of Erbil, due to safety concerns.

Iraqi troops have further advanced to Sinjar, reclaiming another strategically important location from Kurdish forces who again, did not put up any significant fight.

Iraq’s advances represent a watershed moment in national unity as most factions in the country have united behind the common Iraq flag against an overzealous Kurdish regime led by the secessionist Masoud Barzani. This has been countered by the fractious nature of Kurdish parties, in spite of a propaganda campaign from Kurdish media which seeks to insinuate a sectarian conflict, blaming Iran and its Shi’a allies for an ‘attack’ on Kurds. This is effectively the opposite of what is actually occurring, but this narrative does fit the agenda of many in the US who seek to pivot their Middle Eastern strategy from using jihadist proxies to weaken Arab countries in the region (especially those allied with Iran) to one which seeks to use Kurdish proxies to do the same.

This however presents a unique set of problems for the US, as I explored in a previous piece, reproduced below:

“Statements coming from the Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq, which appear to reject recent overtures made by Iraq to negotiate a restoration of the automatons status quo in Kurdish regions in North Iraq, indicate that the Kurds are not acting alone in their provocations against Baghdad.

The following statements were Tweeted from Kurdish leaders in the aftermath of a recent visit of Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker to Kurdish regions, which constituted Baghdad’s sincere attempt to de-escalate tensions. These statements appear to negate the atmosphere which as of last week, was tense but seemingly in the midst of a partial thaw.

There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. If there be any negotiation with Baghdad it will be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions

The Meeting in Dukan between KDP/ PUK ended. Good news on reiterating our national unity in the face of all pressure. Our readiness to reach peaceful resolution for current standoff in all area. Rejecting military option, but ready to defend.

 Over the last 48 hours, events have intensified in northern Iraq, as Iraqi forces have started to re-establish control over the city of Kirkuk, which was unilaterally claimed as part of a would-be Kurdish state by the regime in Erbil, during the unilateral secession referendum held on the 25th of September, 2017.

Iraq’s positions is that any act of Kurdish secession is illegal and furthermore, a serious security threat to the Iraqi state and wider region. Furthermore, Iraq will never recognise Kirkuk as part of a Kurdish autonomous region, nor will the local Arab and Turkomen populations of Kirkuk who have all rallied behind Iraq, in a unique display of inter-sect (Sunni and Shi’a) and inter-ethnic unity in Iraq.

As Turkish President Erdogan has correctly stated; with Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, all in opposition to Kurdish secession in northern Iraq, there is simply no way for a would-be Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq to logistically nor economically survive. With Iran, Turkey and Iraq threatening to embargo and effectively besiege such an entity, were it to be unilaterally proclaimed, the only hope for such a so-called “Kurdistan” would be if it had external support from a non-bordering state.

A quick examination of the states technically capable of and politically willing to supply such a Kurdish entity, while overcoming the military might of Iran and Turkey, quickly points to only one power. This is the United States. Both in terms of its technical might and its track record of defying all norms of diplomatic relations, Washington is uniquely placed to aid a would-be Kurdistan built on Iraqi soil, in defiance of the entire region, except for Israel, which would almost certainly continue to provide support for Iraqi Kurds, especially if doing so along with the US. Russia and China by contrast, have firmly committed themselves to the territorial unity of Iraq.

Even by American standards, Washington is caught between a rock and a hard place in respect of a would be Kurdish entity in Iraq. On the one hand, if the United States were to defy Baghdad, it would mean that Iraq would become ever more detached from the already pessimistic nature of its cooperation with the United States. Simultaneous to this, Baghdad would almost certainly move even closer to Iran in terms of security cooperation, economic cooperation and a broader geo-political alignment.

The danger is that, with Iraq still recovering from years of invasion, occupation and terrorism, that radical voices, such as that of the apparently influential, though unhinged Nikki Haley, would press for a US intervention on behalf of Israeli geo-political ambitions, in order to bolster Kurds in Iraq. This would constitute a new stage of the ongoing proxy war against Iran and one which would increasingly and inevitably also grow into a conflict with Turkey, in spite of Turkey’s continued, however grudging NATO membership.

As I wrote yesterday in The Duran:

“Iraq’s present geo-political position is that of the only country in the world where the two most influential countries inside its borders are the United States and Iran. To put this in perspective, imagine a country where the two most influential powers, each with its own troops working with various factions of such a state’s army, were Japan and North Korea.

But this is the awkward reality of modern Iraq, a country whose armed forces coordinate airstrikes with the USA and where in other parts of the country, on the same day, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, train Iraqi troops and Popular Mobilization Units  to fight terrorism. What’s more is that Iraq has recently approached Iran to sign a wide ranging military security pact. All the while, the US maintains multiple military bases in Iraq, in addition to an embassy in Baghdad that is better described as a military fortress.

If the US was intent on ‘containing’ Iran at all costs or even maintain a power in the Middle East with a track record of not being afraid of Iran, the US could have simply continued to fund and arm Saddam Hussein. In rejecting Saddam and engaging in illegal regime change, the US severely underestimated the potential of a post-Ba’athist Iraq not to devolve into a battle ground of identity politics, one in which sheer mathematics would dictate more pro-Iranian factions than any other.

Now, the US is stuck in the rut that is contemporary Iraq. On the one hand, Iraq has been a major material investment for the US. This is one of the leading explanations for why the US condemned the recent Kurdish secession referendum in northern Iraq. Where Iraqi Kurds were once the go-to faction in Iraq for the US to undermine the old Ba’athist government and since 2003, a faction that the US exploited to promote a so-called ‘Iraqi success story’, today, the US wants to have its Kurdish cake and eat it too. In other words, while the US does not intend to publicly defame Iraqi Kurds, they also seek to preserve the unity of their investment called Iraq.

At least, this is what the US says in public, but privately, this may have already changed. Kurdish secessionists in Iraq decided to include the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the map of a would-be Kurdish state, as part of the widely condemned secession referendum process. This has infuriated the Arab and Turkomen population of Kirkuk who see Kurds as attempting to annex a city which is not part of the existing autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Over the last 24 hours, reports from Kirkuk, detailing intense fighting between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. have been flowing in, albeit under the radar due to the media focusing more acutely on Donald Trump’s anti-Iran speech. While most Arab sources describe the battles as being fought between Iraqi Troops and Peshmerga, Kurdish outlets speak of clashes between a “foreign backed Iraqi army” along with Shi’a forces versus Peshmerga.

Thus one sees that generally pro-western and clearly pro-Israel Kurdish writers are proliferating a narrative where a foreign power, meaning Iran, is backing Shi’a Iraqis in a fight against Kurds.

The clear intention is to send the world a false message the the current fights in Kirkuk are an Iranian proxy battle against ‘wholesome Iraqi Kurds’. In reality, when reading between the liens, even in Kurdish propaganda outlets, one realises that the majority Shi’a Iraq army, the Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomen of Kirkuk, are all united behind the Iraqi flag against the Kurdish flag. In this sense, a battle which Kurds are trying to paint as a proxy sectarian war, is actually a rare example of Iraqi unity between Arabs and Turkomen, Shi’a and Sunni.

Thus, one sees the blueprint as well as the folly of the US and Israel’s real proxy war against Iran. Having failed in Syria and Lebanon, Iraq is the place where anti-Iranian forces will continue and likely ramp up their long-term anti-Tehran proxy war.

Whereas ISIS failed to destroy Iraq and also failed to limit Iranian influence on Iraq, the Kurds in Iraq will likely be the next proxy force used to attempt and draw Iran into a new conflict in Iraq. In the coming weeks and months, the headlines in fake news outlets warning of an ‘Iran/Hezbollah plot to take over Syria’, will likely be replaced with stories of ‘Iranian terrorists committing atrocities against Iraqi Kurds’. Of course, the more this strategy fails on the battle field, the more absurd the fake news stories will get, just as fake stories about Syrian chemical weapons tend to appear every time Damascus scores a substantial victory against al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The problem with the new plan for more proxy wars with Iran in Iraq, is that in the process, many Iraqi Arabs, as well as Iraqi Turkomen, may revive a pan-Iraqi identity in the process. Furthermore, if pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq begin fighting for the rights of Sunni Arabs and Turkomen against Kurds, it could actually help to reconcile Iraqi Sunnis with Iraqi Shi’as.

This is the real game-plan against Iran and while it is a dangerous one, it ultimately will not be an effective one. In many ways, it may even be less effective than the attempt to use ISIS and other Takfiri groups to draw Iran into a losing war in the Arab world. Here, the opposite has happened, Iran has worked with legal state partners to cooperate and ultimately secure victory against Takfiri jihadists.

When and if the conflicts in Iraq finally end, the only question remaining will be: What to do with the deeply unpopular US bases in Iraq? There are only two options:

1. Perpetual stalemate

2. A 1975 Vietnam style withdrawal

The United States plans to end Iranian power in Iraq, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq will instead be the graveyard of US hegemony. In many ways, it already is”.

The proxy-war against Iran is under way in Iraq and has just entered a new phase

In this sense, the ongoing Battle of Kirkuk is already a test of Iraqi unity versus that of Kurdish forces. This combined with Kurdish unwillingness to negotiate with a still surprisingly malleable Baghdad, would appear to indicate that the Kurds are biding their time and waiting to see if external support will come there way. Because of the vast American presence in Iraq, this ‘external’ support wouldn’t even be logistically difficult for the US, certainly not at first anyway.

Either the Kurds are once again hoping against hope and simply wishing for direct US assistance or they know something the rest of the world can only guess at. It is increasingly possible that the Kurds realise that contrary to US public statements in support of Iraq’s territorial unity, that a secret plan is being hatched to help Kurds secede from Iraq. In doing this, the US would also be hoping to drag Iran and Turkey into the Iraqi quagmire that was first authored by the US, Israel and Britain in 2003.

The entire scenario is dangerous beyond conventional belief, but it is looking ever more likely that such a storm may be brewing”.

While I still have few doubts that many in the US would like to use a Kurdish proxy war in Iraq to provoke and ideally weaken the Baghdad-Tehran alliance, the speed with which Iraqi troops have advanced in Kirkuk and nearby regions, indicates that such a strategy will not be as easy as some, including the overtly pro-Kurdish John McCain, may have suspected.

The US is currently maintaining an officially neutral stance on the Iraq-Kurdish militant clashes, for fear of alienating either side. However, with the Kurdish militants apparently failing to put up any meaningful fight, many in the US ought to be questioning the sheer logistical reliability of their would-be proxies in the continued US regional struggle against Iran. In this sense, the victory of Iraq and its allies, is a further sign that however much the US invests in the Middle East, it is local powers that are best placed to shape their own future. This is exactly what the Iraqis have accomplished in Kirkuk and nearby regions.

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Maria Butina, her crime: A love of the NRA and being Russian (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has communicated to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russian national Maria Butina must be set free and allowed to return to Russia, after she was arrested by US officials on dubious spy charges.

Lavrov said that the US should immediately release the Russian gun activist, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, after a phone conversation with his US counterpart.

Lavrov called the charges levied against Butina “fabricated.”

In his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, “Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable.”

In an official statement the Russian Foreign Ministry called for her “immediate release.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the oddly timed, out of the blue arrest of Maria Butina, who is being held by US authorities for what they claim to be a violation of the FARA act.

In reality Maria Butina’s crime is much more troubling than simply failing to register as a foreign agent.

Maria made the double mistake of being in the United States of America as a Russian citizens who loves guns, at a time when racism and bigotry against Russians and NRA supporters is surpassing McCarthyite levels.

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Via RT

The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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Ugly breakup at FBI: Lisa Page throws ex-lover, Peter Strzok, under the bus (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 60.

Alex Christoforou

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While Peter Strzok’s testimony put a face on the deceptive and secretive Deep State, GOP lawmakers who were present at Lisa Page’s closed-door deposition said they learned a lot of new information from the ex-FBI lawyer, and ex-lover of Peter Strzok.

Lisa Page confirmed to GOP lawmakers that the text messages sent between her and her lover Strzok “meant exactly what they said,” contrary to Strzok’s testimony.

According to The Gateway Pundit, one damning text message in particular sent from Strzok on May 19th, 2017, just two days after Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, intrigued investigators and the public alike.

“There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted.

According to investigative reporter, John Solomon, Lisa Page confirmed that text from Peter Strzok did indeed refer to the Trump-Russia case.

Strzok knew it was a nothing-burger yet he forged ahead.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou, RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle, and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how Peter Strzok’s testimony has undoubtedly contradicted Lisa Page’s cooperative deposition, as the ex-FBI lawyer is preparing to save herself, while throwing her ex-lover under the bus.

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Via The Epoch Times

Representatives John Ratcliffe and Louie Gohmert of Texas recently shared their observations of the closed-door testimony of former high-ranking FBI lawyer Lisa Page, which concluded on July 16.

One of the major questions regarding the testimony was whether it would match the one given by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

But while Ratcliffe said he found a mismatch, Gohmert wouldn’t go so far.

Page and Strzok played major roles in the investigations on both 2016 presidential candidates: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. During the same period, Page and Strzok had an affair and exchanged thousands of text messages expressing a strong bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton.

“When I questioned Lisa Page on Friday about the anti-Trump text messages that were sent between herself and Peter Strzok, there were significant differences in her testimony and Strzok’s as it relates to what she thought some of these text messages meant,” Ratcliffe said in a July 16 tweet, shortly before the second round of questioning.

“Page gave us new information that Strzok either wouldn’t or couldn’t, confirming some of the concerns we had about these investigations and the people involved in running them,” he wrote.

On July 17, Ratcliffe expanded on his further statements about Page’s testimony. Radcliffe told Fox News…

“There are differences in their testimony.”

“In many cases, she admits that the text messages mean exactly what they say, as opposed to agent Strzok, who thinks that we’ve all misinterpreted his own words on any text message that might be negative.”

Via The Epoch Times

In one of the texts, Strzok vowed to “stop” Trump from becoming president. In another, the two discussed having an “insurance policy” in the “unlikely” event that Trump would win the election.

Strzok, who gave a closed-door testimony on June 27 and a public one on July 12, said the first message meant he and the American people would stop Trump. The second, he said previously, meant he wanted to pursue the Russia investigation aggressively, in case Trump won.

GOP lawmakers were furious with Strzok’s attitude and unwillingness to answer questions. In a scathing monologue, Gohmert even linked Strzok’s credibility to the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife.

President Donald Trump repeatedly called Strzok’s testimony a “disgrace.”

The lawmakers said Page was comparatively more cooperative.

“There were times the FBI lawyers would be reaching to the button to mute her comment, and she would answer before they could mute her comment,” Gohmert told Fox News.

He said Page didn’t contradict Strzok “so much,” but “has given us insights into who was involved in what.”

“I think she’ll be a good witness,” he said.

Page ditched her first testimony appointment on July 11, prompting GOP lawmakers to threaten her with contempt of Congress. She then agreed to appear on July 13, which gave her the opportunity to review Strzok’s public testimony before giving hers.

The lawmakers are probing the FBI’s and Justice Department’s decisions before the election, suspecting they were influenced by political considerations.

Texts between Strzok and Page suggest that the FBI initiated an offensive counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign as early as December 2015.

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Russia makes MASSIVE progress on its ‘super-weapons’

Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle moves into serial production, nuclear-engine powered cruise missile tests continue, and more as Russia continues to outdo all Western military tech

Seraphim Hanisch

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On July 19th and 20th, The Russian Defense Ministry announced several milestones of progress in its advanced weapons systems programs. These programs were revealed to the world in March of this year, when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the State of the Russian Federation speech.

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While at first the Western onlookers did not believe the amazing announcements of hypersonic weapons and nuclear-powered cruise missiles with unlimited range, subsequent releases and concurrent observation by the American military experts has shown these developments to be as real as Mr. Putin claimed they are.

TASS, the Russian News Agency, released information on these weapons systems in separate reports:

Kinzhal

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile:

Squadrons of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles should enter combat duty in the Black Sea region and at other Russian fleets and flotillas, said Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva magazine.

Besides, a squadron (between 12 and 16 aircraft) of MiG-31 fighter jets armed with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles entered combat duty in the Caspian Sea region in April.

“I think at least one squadron of those complexes should be deployed at any fleet, in other words – at all regions where we have fleets and flotillas. We need to deploy them in the regions of the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Northern Fleet. The Pacific region also should not be forgotten,” Murakhovsky said.

He said that such systems can become a “good instrument” against not only vessels equipped with high-precision weapons, but also for countering carrier attack groups.

“We know how expensive a carrier attack group can be. By employing this asymmetric method, which is unbelievably cheap in comparison with building a carrier attack group, we can neutralize this threat almost completely,” the expert said.

Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile trials:

The Burevestnik is an entirely new cruise missile, powered by a nuclear engine. This gives the missile unlimited range. In theory, such a missile could be launched at a target and spend days or weeks in hidden flight using advanced guidance systems, and then close on its target at the optimal time to assure destruction of that target with maximum surprise. The TASS piece goes on to say:

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russia was preparing to test upgraded test prototypes of the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile with an unlimited range.

According to the expert, it is highly likely that the prototype of the missile “has already made a flight.”

“Clearly, it was something like the pop-up trials of Sarmat – a launch without the nuclear-powered engine, in other words, with an ordinary missile booster, conducted in order to assess the possibility of a launch, aerodynamics and the operability of the entire system in general,” [Murakhovsky] said.

Further reporting from TASS had this to add about the Burevestnik program:

Russia is getting ready for flight tests of the Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile, an official at the Defense Ministry told reporters on Thursday.

“The missile’s component makeup is being improved based on clarified requirements, while ground tests continue and preparations are being made for experimental flight tests of the improved missile,” the official said.

According to the Defense Ministry, “work on an unlimited-range missile is going according to plan.”

“In the meantime, launching systems are also being designed, while technological processes to manufacture, assemble and test the missile are being improved. This range of work will make it possible to start designing a totally new sort of weapon – a strategic nuclear complex armed with a nuclear powered missile,” the ministry official noted.

[The head] of the 12th Central Research Institute at Russia’s Defense Ministry Sergey Pertsev, in turn, said that the tests of the new cruise missile equipped with a small nuclear power unit had confirmed the accuracy of the technical decisions that Russian researchers, engineers and designers had made. In addition, the tests enabled the researchers “to receive valuable experimental data necessary for specifying a number of requirements.”

“A low-flying and low-observable cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with an almost unlimited range, an unpredictable trajectory and capability to bypass interception lines is invincible to all the existing and advanced air and missile defense systems,” the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

A further use of the nuclear engine technology is also expected in the Poseidon underwater drone, Mr. Murakhovsky stated that separate systems for the craft have been successfully tested. He further noted that the next task is to design the entire layout, build a test model and begin testing the whole platform.

The Avangard Hypersonic Missile

While the Kinzhal is a Mach-10 capable hypersonic system that can be launched from a fighter, the Avangard is a Mach-20 capable system that has intercontinental reach. There is almost no footage of this system released to the public, but the concept videos show how the system works. TASS reports this status:

Russia’s Strategic Missile Force is preparing a position area for accepting the Avangard hypersonic missile system for service as part of the efforts to strengthen the country’s military security, the Defense Ministry announced on Thursday.

“The Russian defense industry has completed developing the Avangard missile system with the principally new armament – the gliding cruise warhead. Industrial enterprises have switched to its serial production,” the Defense Ministry said.

“A set of organizational and technical measures is underway in the position area of the Dombarovsky large unit of the Strategic Missile Force to accept the Avangard missile system for operation,” it added.

The development of new strategic weapon systems “is aimed at increasing Russia’s defense capability and preventing any aggression against our country and its allies,” the Defense Ministry stressed.

The infrastructural facilities of the large unit’s position area have already been prepared for the missile system’s operation, the ministry said.

“The position area has been prepared in geodesic and engineering terms to accommodate the missile system. Work is underway to build new and reconstruct old facilities to provide for the operation and the combat use of the system. Technical and utility supply lines are being modernized and electric power, communications and command and control cables are being laid. Work has been arranged to train personnel and prepare armament, military and special hardware,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Deputy Commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Force for Armament Sergei Poroskun has said that the Avangard hypersonic missile system features combat capabilities that “make it possible to reliably breach any anti-missile defenses.”

The Okhotnik attack drone

The Okhotnik (“Hunter”) attack drone is now being viewed as a prototype for Russia’s “sixth-generation” fighter plane. TASS describes this in more detail:

According to [a defense industry] official, although the sixth generation fighter jet project “has not yet taken full shape, its main features are already known.”

“First of all, it should be unmanned and capable of performing any combat task in an autonomous regime. In this sense, Okhotnik will become the prototype of the sixth generation fighter jet,’ the source said, adding that the drone will be able to “take off, fulfill its objectives and return to the airfield.”

“However, it will not receive the function of decision-making regarding the use of weapons – this will be decided by a human,” he said.

TASS was unable to officially confirm the information at the time of the publication.

Another defense industry source earlier told TASS that the prototype of Okhotnik (Hunter) was ready and would start test flights this year.

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Sukhoi Company signed a contract for developing the 20-ton Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy unmanned strike aircraft in 2011. The drone’s mock-up model was made in 2014. According to unconfirmed reports, composite materials and anti-radar coating were used to create the Okhotnik. The drone is equipped with a reaction-jet propulsion and is supposed to develop a speed of 1000 kilometers per hour.

Peresvet laser weapons systems

TASS reported that the Russian military forces are now training for the use of the Peresvet combat laser system:

Russian Aerospace Force has accepted for service the laser complexes Peresvet and the military are now taking drills that involve the novel combat technologies, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

“The Peresvet laser complexes have been placed at sites of permanent deployment,” the report said. “Active efforts to make them fully operational are underway.”

“To ensure their proper functioning, the necessary infrastructures and specialized facilities for housing the complexes and duty crews have been built,” the ministry said.

The crews assigned to the Peresvets have taken upgrader courses at the Alexander Mozhaisky Military-Space Academy in St Petersburg.

The Russian military strategy of “asymmetric response.”

The overall defense strategy is termed an “asymmetric response”, and Mr. Murakhovsky explained the principle in this way:

“This is an asymmetric response, in which new classes of weapons are created, instead of new types within the framework of the existing systems. Other states are not expected to have anything of this kind [in the near future],” he said.

The expert described this response as “quite an efficient one, all the more so because it requires no additional investment – all the works are being carried out within the framework of the state procurement program.”

He added that unlike the Soviet Union, Russia avoids being dragged into a direct arms race and searches for cutting-edge solutions instead of simply increasing the number of weapons.

“The development of counter-weapons to those arms [may be possible] in distant future, but it does not mean that they can be created at all,” Murakhovsky added.

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